Science for the De-Converted – Part III
This misconception is frequently alluded to in Christian circles in an attempt to discount the findings of the scientific community as merely “one man’s opinion.” While there is a constant hum of debate among scientists, Christians seem to think that no one agrees on anything, and that there are no theories that aren’t questionable.
This is not true. The body of accepted scientific knowledge is vast and elegantly interwoven. But this is only accomplished through dialog and criticism.
Consider what you are doing right now. You are reading this article on a computer monitor. The data from this article is being transmitted to you from a server, over networked cables, and part of the distance may even be wireless. The data is converted to a scientific language and communicates with the hardware on your desk. The amount of scientific knowledge that is required for this technological feat is agreed upon, standardized, and immense.
Anyone who calls into question the how much electrical resistance one can mathematically expect in a given system will not succeed as a competitor in the world of electronics. Reality is an excellent proving ground, and the results are in: scientists agree on almost every conclusion made so far.
But this doesn’t mean their work is done.
I have on my desk a sculpture that is familiar to many people. It is a plaster head, upon which is drawn the various emotions once associated to the various regions of the scalp. The science was called “Phrenology,” and was complete and total hogwash. Yet for years, many scientists believed the theory had merit. Eventually, however, there was enough data to cast serious statistical doubt upon the entire concept—it withered and died. Does this prove that all scientific theories are questionable? No, but scientific criticism has a way of amputating any branches that were put forth without sufficient data.
This is only one example of how body of accepted scientific knowledge is constantly being refined. Scientists who attempt to usurp tried-and-true scientific principles often fail, but the attempts serve a distinctly useful purpose. No science should remain uncontested, especially after long periods of acceptance within the scientific community. These usurpers will, now and then, succeed in unseating a previously accepted principal. While it may seem to some that this means science is inexact, that would be an inappropriate conclusion. Every new discovery that upsets the balance actually means that science is removing more and more inaccurate concepts from its practice.
So to say that this constant debate is proof that all science can be discounted is essentially saying that you don’t understand what science is. Science would be worthless if the community did not allow–and even welcome–challenges and growth. If it did that, it would be much more like a religion.
“Edge” recently compiled examples of scientists who have changed their mind after analyzing the evidence. (http://www.edge.org/documents/press/publico.html) This maturation has been ongoing for centuries, and that laypeople are aware of this constant synthesis and refinement of ideas is testament to the fact that the dialectic process is occurring. This dialectic is why science is more trustworthy than any other source of knowledge, including religion.
In a community of 5-10 million scientists world-wide, you could probably find one or two that would fancy any idea you wish to corroborate. To wit, if you want to find someone who agrees with you that the earth is flat, you can always read and pass along this story: http://theflatearthsociety.org/library/the_flat_out_truth.pdf In the same way, you can find even more scientists who disagree with evolution, carbon dating, cosmological issues, etc. While the controversy and dialog are welcome, none of these detractors are coming up with credible refutations of these accepted theories.
A scientist inherits his title merely by being paid for scientific endeavors. It does not mean that his ideas—or even his work—has scientific merit. Many ambitious charlatans are insisting their ideas be thrust into public discourse, and that schools “teach the controversy.”
It’s no secret that open and constant criticism of religious principles is not allowed or encouraged within any major religion. Its precepts are simply to be believed, and are said to be divine in origin. Yet the divinities of these various religions differ significantly in nature and ideology. In spite of this, there is no interest among them to compare notes and find synthesis. Instead, the dialog between these religions often takes the form of bloody altercations.
So while religions attempt to discount science because of the disagreement that occurs there, they discount all religion to an even greater extent. While science disagrees with the intent of learning and improving, religions disagree with the intent of preserving and expanding its incontestable ideas.